21 November 2017

On the 100th Anniversary of the October Revolution. An Interview with the Head of the House of Romanoff in Teachers’ Gazette (Uchitel’skaya gazeta)

Глава Дома Романовых Глава Дома Романовых

A century has passed since the October Revolution. In the intervening century, Russia has made a lot of economic and social progress. What in your view have we lost and what have we gained in the 20th century as a result of this extraordinary social experiment?

You probably can remember how, during the Communist regime, one often heard it claimed that all of Russia’s successes in the 19th and early 20th centuries were achieved despite, not because of, the monarchy. But I do not adopt such a primitive, erroneous, and propagandistic view of the Soviet period. While the USSR without a doubt not only committed mass repressions, ruthless social experiments, violence, and destruction, it also did much that was heroic and creative. It would be unreasonable to deny that a significant role in the victories and achievements of this period was played by those who were in power. Without underlying principles and determined leadership, you will never achieve anything.

But does this mean that without the Revolution of 1917 or without the Bolshevik seizure of power there would have been no progress or that things would have only gotten worse with time? Of course not. To think that would be an insult to our people. Progress forward does not in principle ever cease. And the main driving force has always been and remains the people, regardless of the form of government they live under.

Indeed, objective statistical data demonstrate that economic and social progress in the Russian Empire was moving forward at a rapid pace. The First World War suspended or slowed the rate of growth quite a lot, and the Revolution and subsequent Civil War set our country back for a time. It is not for nothing that until the 1980s in the USSR, experts continued to compare current economic indicators with data from the year just before the Great War broke out—1913.

Having won the Civil War and having united a significant part of the territory of the former Russian Empire around new ideological and political principles, the Bolsheviks needed to resolve issues that confront all governments. At first, Russia was thought of as merely a springboard toward a worldwide revolution. But even in the years of the Civil War, it became clear that the global victory of Communism was not going to happen. Then, as it gradually moved toward a more practical policy, the Communist regime began to orient its system to conditions in the one and only country they controlled. The regime had to rally the people to itself and provide a defense against external enemies, manage the economy and social life, engage in foreign relations, formulate a legal system, regulate issues of science, culture, and education and the training of professional personnel.... And to the extent the regime performed these things, and to the extent it did so with reference to the legacy of the past and objectively acting in the national interest, then it succeeded in creating something. Even so, its atheistic and materialistic ideology, and the totalitarian and repressive political policies it fostered, mutilated and marred the many achievements of the Soviet period.

Despite its tremendous leaps forward in industrialization, the victory in the Second World War, its military power, and its many other impressive achievements, on balance the Communist experiment was a failure. The example of the collapse of the USSR only proves that any government without God, without reference to the legacy of its ancestors and forebears, without respect for every human life, and without respect for the dignity of the individual—such a government is a colossus standing on clay feet. And all our victories will necessarily turn into terrible defeats if we fall into pride, if we justify the means by their ends, and if we forget about faith, love, honour, and empathy.

Was the Marxist experiment inevitable for Russia, or was it imported from the outside and brought about by our own revolutionaries, who were members of the Internationale?

No destructive force, whether foreign or domestic, could ever have brought about the disruptions and chaos we experienced if the people had been united and had truly appreciated and valued their national, spiritual, and moral values. The Revolution certainly had political, economic, and social causes, but the most important and most fatal cause was a deep spiritual crisis — the fundamental disillusionment of a significant portion of the population not only in the monarchy, but also in religion, in the family, and, more fundamentally, in all traditional customs.

This crisis was brewing for a long time and responsibility for it resides with our dynasty, the ruling classes of the Empire, the clergy, and the intellectual elite. To blame others, without also recognizing one’s own share of the blame for the Revolution, is dishonest, irrational, and irresponsible.

On the day he abdicated, the Emperor wrote in his diary: “All around me there is treachery, cowardice, and deceit.” But how did things get this way? And who is responsible for assembling around himself such cowardly and deceitful servitors? However much we may honour the statesmanship, or martyrific sacrifice, or personal holiness of Nicholas II, we cannot avoid asking these questions and searching for the answers. Taken as a whole, the Imperial government fell first and foremost not because it had powerful opponents but because it had too few defenders, and because what defenders it had were not united in their cause.

After the mainstay of the historical state was toppled, chaos inevitably ensued, and that chaos could be overcome only by the most cruel, resolute, and single-minded figures. Therefore the moderate revolutionaries of February, led by the White Movement, lost out to more radical revolutionaries—the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks employed terroristic methods much more actively and broadly than their opponents. This is a fact. But it is also a fact that one cannot hang on to power by terror and violence for long. In the Communists’ arsenal was also a number of decisive measures to deal with economic and social problems, and they employed as well skillful propaganda, and the manipulation and exploitation of patriotic and even religious feelings.

The Marxist atheistic, internationalist ideology, which contradicts entirely the historical system of values in Russia, of course, was imposed by violence and by deception and manipulation. And therefore, despite the seeming success of this ideology, it never really took root. Proof of this is evident in the rapid restoration of the nation’s religious outlook and the desire clearly expressed by the peoples of Russia to revive its national traditions.

But the life of the people, including those who believed in Communism and knowingly, deliberately fought for it, can hardly be explained by party ideology. So we have to examine and appreciate the history of the Russian people during the years when the Communist Party was in power, looking not only at its official slogans and external forms, but also at how life was then, in all its dramatic contradictions and variations.

Many thinkers, in particular Ivan Bunin, Ivan Solonevich, and others, directly blame the intelligentsia for preparing the way for the revolution. What do you think was the role of the intelligentsia? After all, it didn’t seek to bring chaos and civil war to the nation, or to introduce a dictatorship. What lessons should today’s intelligentsia learn from this experience?

I have already pointed out that I am not inclined to blame anyone. Mutual recriminations don’t fix anything, and sins and mistakes were committed by all sides.

But, indeed, sometimes when you analyze the words and actions of the more educated and gifted segments of Russian society one must necessarily feel a sense of bitter surprise. How can such bright, talented, curious, sensitive people sometimes be so blind and short-sighted? How can they not see that the problems in their own house cannot be fixed by knocking out the stones in the foundations or setting the rooms on fire?

The gift of the written and spoken word, the authority of science, the influence of the visual, musical, theatrical, and cinematic arts, and other forms of intellectual and cultural achievement—all have enormous power. And like any power, these gifts can be directed both toward creative and destructive purposes.

The intelligentsia must understand especially well its enormous responsibility in this regard. And to see and comprehend this responsibility is not to be in constant opposition to the state, but to influence it, to influence society and individuals on the basis of one’s own moral example, by one’s own wisdom, humility, considered decision-making, personal dignity, and measured stances in defense of one’s beliefs.

The Russian notion of the intellectual is in some ways analogous to the English notion of the gentleman.

To become a gentleman in England, it is not sufficient to have been born into a good family and to have reached a prominent position in life. Of such a well-born and prominent person who nonetheless behaves in an inappropriate manner, one can still say “This gentleman is no gentleman,” or “This lady is not a lady.” And such a judgment is akin to being nailed to a pillory.

To be a genuine intellectual, one doesn’t need an advanced degree or professional experience as such. Nor does one need any special innate talent. What one needs is high moral standards, honesty, manners, mercy, and sensitivity; to respect others, regardless of their status in society; to have firm convictions of one’s own and, at the same time, to recognize the right of others to their own convictions; and avoid and abhor all forms of fanaticism.

If we are speaking about the political role of the intelligentsia, then, first of all, it is not always at all useful or desirable for creative people to participate in political battles. It’s too easy for them to exchange their gifts and talents in these battles for meaningless and momentary rewards, or to become the pawns in other people’s hands. The less an intellectual participates in trivial, quotidian politics, the weightier his or her voice will be on the rare occasion when he or she feels it necessary to speak up on an issue out of conscience.

That part of the intelligentsia which is inclined to engage in social and political activity must especially work hard to avoid at all costs becoming the obedient servant of the government, but, at the same time, should not see every government as a tyranny.

Freedom of thought and expression must be defended by the law and guaranteed in deed. If these rights and freedoms ever come to be threatened, then we must defend them. However, we must always remember that from those to whom much has been given, much is expected in return, and that all rights are inseparably linked to responsibilities—first and foremost, the responsibility to serve the nation and to perform one’s civic duty.

As historians have shown, the people over all, especially the peasantry, were not against the tsar, although they were critical of the government. The tsar was removed by leaders in the government, who transformed the monarchy into a bourgeois republic that, it turned out, was not viable in Russia. Do you think it was necessary to uproot everything we had in Russia? After all, monarchies continued in a number of European countries and that has in no way prevented the economic and social development of those countries.

I always like to say that for the Imperial House to reject the idea of monarchy would be as absurd as the Christian Church preaching atheism.

I am utterly convinced that the monarchical ideal of the State-Family, headed by a national father or mother figure, remains a viable option and could be of use to our people as they move forward into a new phase of our national history. A hereditary, legitimate monarch would not be beholden to any group or faction, and so could act as a natural arbiter for the entire nation and for all its component parts. It could function as a living symbol of the continuity across all the eras in our national history.

My son and I are perfectly aware that, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, the necessary conditions for the restoration of the monarchy in Russia do not exist. The current situation inside the country and its international position are right now best served by a strong presidential republic, which is a system that the majority of my countrymen today support. As citizens of Russia, we are loyal to the present government and fully recognize the Constitution and laws of the land, and we strive to be useful to our country in any way we can, regardless, of course, of the fact that the country is a republic and not a monarchy. At the same time, we have the legal right to speak about what we believe to be the advantages of the monarchical form of government. And we believe that one day the monarchy will, indeed, be restored.

At the same time, we firmly believe that it is pointless to restore a purely decorative monarchy. Moreover, I believe it would be criminal and fruitless to attempt a restoration of the monarchy behind the people’s backs, through backroom deals and intrigues. The restoration of the monarchy can only happen through an expression of the people’s will, which must be based on a conscious choice of my countrymen and on their full understanding of the essence of this form of government, including all its advantages and shortcomings

The Lord permitted the overthrow of the monarchy in Russia. The Emperor and his family, many other members of the dynasty, and the majority of those who remained loyal to the monarch accepted martyrdom. This is a truly painful, sad, and horrible truth. But from the perspective of the historical process (in which there are always examples of cruelty and tragedy), it is possible that the catastrophe that befell the Russian monarchy saved it from a fate of slow decomposition and decay, from an erosion of its core essence. And if the monarchy should ever return, it will never play the role of a purely decorative façade, and must never be perceived or accepted as an atavism, a throwback to its former role. It will become again, borrowing the vivid words of Ivan Solonevich, whom you’ve mentioned, the “bread of our Homeland.”

Can one say that the Russian Revolution ended only in 1991, when the country returned to its former social order?

There was no return to the former social order in 1991, nor could there have been. In general, history does not repeat itself. Even in the 1920s, just a few short years after the Revolution, my grandfather, Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Vladimirovich, affirmed that it would be pointless and even destructive to cherish hopes for the restoration of the pre-Revolutionary social and political order in Russia. Referring to what the Revolution had unleashed in Russia, he said: “One need not abolish those institutions which have been called forth by the conditions of life itself, but absolutely one must reject those which do violence to the human spirit.”

After the fall of the Communist regime and collapse of the USSR, many things that came into being during the Soviet period, but which nonetheless had been “called forth by the conditions of life itself,” got buried under its ruins. No new principle was found or articulated that could preserve the unity of the diverse peoples that had once comprised this single, unified cultural space. And the Soviet system of popular representation in government did not find new life after the fall of the Party dictatorship. Social guarantees either disappeared entirely or were sharply curtailed. The thriving industrial and agricultural sectors of the economy were disrupted or destroyed. And the nation’s position internationally suffered greatly.

And those things that do damage the human soul, that grow and thrive in the poisonous soil of atheism and in revolutionary attitudes toward morality, have, alas, taken very deep root today. And we see today and we will continue to see relapses to these attitudes to life.

In 1991, the government ceased to be atheistic and restored relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and other religious confessions. It revived its respect for many traditional values. It restored the right to own private property and diversified the economy. These, undoubtedly, were all positive developments. But to think that the Revolution ended definitively and finally then would be facile and a bit mechanical in thinking.

We seem still to be stuck between February and October 1917, and we have not yet freed ourselves completely of the Red-vs.-White mentality. There still are instances of attempts at Red or White revanchism. Generations may have come and gone, but the wounds of the Revolution are still open and bleeding.

I thank God that the year 2017, which elicited a new round of sharp debates about what happened a century ago, did not lead to new upheavals in our society. It has turned out that patriotism and common sense, which were displayed by both the government and the public, are much stronger forces than the efforts of some political factions to incite our countrymen to violence and discord.

But we can say the Revolution has ended only when we can finally look back and assess the past not as heirs of February or heirs of October, but as heirs of the entire centuries-old history of Russia.

Russia chose a democratic course of development not in October 1917, but only 70 years later. What in your opinion should citizens of Russia preserve from the past so that our country can continue to move forward and provide prosperity to its people?

Democratic institutions in Russia have actually existed since ancient times. And they did not disappear during the time of the monarchy. In general, it is deeply problematical to set monarchy and democracy at odds with each other. Neither form of government has ever existed in their purest possible forms, after all. Many governments have seen the coexistence and cooperation of monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic principles.

Advocates of modern liberal democracy like to cite the incisive words of Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But they forget to mention that this quotation was uttered by a very convinced monarchist, who served as prime minister both to a king and a queen.

So by means of various distortions, omissions, and often outright deceptions, sometimes quite undemocratic things take root and grow under the slogans of democracy. Many like to say that modern European monarchies are merely “decorative.” And there is an element of truth in this. But there might be an equal element of truth in thinking that the democracy in some modern European republics is “decorative,” too.

Just think for a moment what we mean by the word “democracy”? Literally, the word means the “power of the people.” But direct democracy is possible only in the smallest of political communities. And as soon as you have representative democracy, you have already created a mechanism for the diversion of power into the hands of one or another oligarchy.

Or, perhaps you will say that democracy is more about the freedom to do and think as you like? But limitless freedoms do not exist, nor can they anywhere. If somewhere such boundless freedoms should appear (temporarily, such as during a revolution) this only leads to anarchy and chaos. And then, in accordance with the “law of the pendulum,” there quickly follows a reaction and the introduction of sharp restrictions on freedoms.

I am convinced that the best way to develop democratic institutions is along the path of improving and expanding the institutions of local self-government. Citizens should have the right and the opportunity to resolve pressing problems themselves, and to control the ways these resolutions are implemented. The government should help support grassroots initiatives, encourage locally organized groups tackling local problems, and provide them with incentives (including tax incentives), rather than burdening them with intrusive regulations and unnecessary red tape. This would reduce corruption, decrease the number of bureaucrats and officials, and raise the collective sense of social responsibility felt by locals. People would stop waiting for solutions to their problems exclusively from the government, and would instead gradually learn themselves how to contend with the world around them, not only within the confines of the narrow walls of their own apartments or boundaries of their own plots of land, but for all those living in their region. This would then produce a sense of solidarity, a willingness to engage in a dialogue with others, and a capacity to find compromise for the sake of the common good.

Of course, nothing is ever perfect and, moreover, no one is ever totally immune from various kinds of conflict. Here the regulatory role of the State can be useful—to make laws and render sensible legal rulings, if the local social bodies are unable to resolve conflicts; and to protect honest people from those who would take advantage of them. But in general there must exist a presumption of trust in society. Indeed, normal people will not steal from themselves; will not deliberately settle for, nor themselves perform, substandard work on their own property; will not build a bad road or an unsafe bridge; will not deprive their children of safe and nutritious food; will not turn a pedestrian zone into a trash heap; and so on.

It is in these areas that democracy should be developed as much as possible. If at this level we can achieve a measure of harmony and balance, then all other democratic institutions and structures in the country will take their cue and become more honest and effective.

And in this regard we have something to gain by looking back at our history—at the era of the veche, at the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible, at the Assemblies of the Land of the 17th century, at the Great Reforms of Emperor Alexander II the Tsar-Liberator. And the notion of an authentic People’s Soviet, liberated from the control of any one party, must also not be forgotten or discarded.

Published as: E. Klinova, “Rossiia sokhranit dushu chelovecheskuiu. Interv’iu s Glavoi doma Romanovykh, velikoi kniaginei Mariei Vladimirovnoi” (Russia Preserves the Soul of Man. An Interview with the Head of the House of Romanoff, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia), Uchitel’skaya gazeta (Teachers’ Gazette), 21 November 2017. See: http://ug.ru/archive/72368.

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